Posts Tagged ‘band’

(Some background for new readers of my blog: I lost a son, Stephen (Steve), in a drowning accident on June 15, 2010; it was a few weeks before his 16th birthday. He was a member of his high school marching band, and was well regarded and respected for his intelligence, integrity, and just being an all-around “good guy”. The band members created an award during the next school year in his memory called the “Super Steve Award”, and it has been my honor to be asked to present it each year during their end-of-year awards banquet. I write a speech each year as part of the award presentation; this is the speech I gave tonight when I presented this year’s award.)

Good evening. I usually try to start my presentation with some sort of lighthearted lines before I get more serious, but I also figured those of you who’ve heard me up here before would probably appreciate it if I could give a shorter speech. Well, try as I might, I simply couldn’t make it any shorter this time, so I guess we’re just going to have to tough it out together.

I’d like to take a moment to thank the band directors, especially Mr. Onspaugh, for continuing to invite me to present the Super Steve Award each year. I consider it a great honor to do so, and I don’t take this task lightly, just as I know the task of selecting the recipient of this award is not taken lightly.

2016 marks the sixth year this award has been given. We’ve come a long way since a very dark day in June of 2010. The class of 2010 had just graduated, Stephen had just finished his sophomore year, and if my calculations are correct you Seniors had just wrapped up your first year playing in the B. Mac band. Do you remember those days? I know your parents do…and probably the band directors as well.

Now here we are, almost six years after the accident that claimed Stephen’s life, and the class of 2016 is graduating. That’s significant in at least two ways as I see it:

First, it means all of you Seniors are finishing high school and moving on to the next part of your lives, whether that’s college, military service, trade school, straight into the workforce, or someplace else that I haven’t thought of. This is no small accomplishment, and I congratulate all of you on reaching this point. While it may seem like the last six years have been a long time for you, it feels like yesterday to me. Let me give you one piece of advice: the time passes faster as you get older – so don’t blink!

2016 is also the year that many of the members of the DHS class of 2012, the class Steve was in, are graduating from college. I’m very fortunate to be friends on Facebook with a good number of his classmates, and I’ve been watching over the years as they have been posting notes about their highs and lows as they made their way through college, or wherever their lives have taken them. Now, of course, I see photos of many of them wearing their caps and gowns as they prepare to cross the stage to get their degrees. I’d like to think some of them will take a moment to remember the friend they lost way too soon, and when they do I hope it’s with a good feeling from knowing he’s looking down and smiling from above.

Steve’s dream was to attend Harvard University, and if the circumstances were different I might very well have been traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts this coming week for their commencement. It might seem far-fetched, or even impossible, to imagine someone from a smaller town like Denison ever getting into a school like Harvard, but if you had ever been around my son you’d also know he was determined enough to make it happen. And that, in a sense, is what the Super Steve Award is all about.

You students were given a set of criteria to keep in mind when choosing the person who will receive this award. I didn’t come up with them, but in looking at them I can tell you they include values he lived by every day, and no one was harder on him about them than he was.

So let’s talk about those for a minute.

The first is Pride for Band. How many of you have seen the display about Stephen in the trophy cases outside the band hall? If you haven’t, I invite you to take a few minutes next week and look at it. What you’ll see are mementoes showing how much Steve loved being in the Touch of Gold band, from his well-worn trumpet that he practiced on forever and a day, to some of his music, to patches he earned from band activities. He loved playing in the band, listening to band music, and always looking for ways to better himself as a musician.

Integrity. What do we mean by that word, integrity? I’ve used the phrase “say what you mean and mean what you say” to describe what I think it is, but lately I’ve thought it goes beyond that. I think it also refers to someone you can count on to be there when you need them, doing the best they can in whatever they are asked to do.

Leadership. What does it take to be a leader? For centuries people have written books about it, philosophers have pondered it, and every generation has had to define it for themselves. There are a few things we all seem to agree on: a leader is someone who can make a decision when others cannot; a person who is strong in their convictions and willing to stand up for them; someone who will go to bat for their team, or their friends, and give their all; a person who wins triumphantly, but humbly, and loses gracefully; and someone who knows when to lead and when to follow. Was Stephen all of these things? Not all at the same time, but yes…and with time I’m certain he would have continued to grow and become even better.

And finally, when was the last time you set your own needs and desires aside to help someone else? That’s the essence of selflessness, the last of the criteria. Parents do it all the time for their children, but unfortunately it’s not as common to find it in someone who was Steve’s age. As I go about my life and meet people who knew him, I learn more and more how he would always be willing to help someone else out with things like schoolwork, or just trying to be a friend. It was really frustrating during his last semester of school when he’d call and say he missed his bus, and we’d have to go pick him up… almost every day. Months after his death, we learned he was hanging out with a friend so she wouldn’t have to sit alone waiting for her mother to pick her up.

Will someone having these values be assured of getting into Harvard? Well, I certainly can’t answer that; I gave up predicting the future a long time ago. But, I’m pretty sure a person who does, including this year’s recipient, will do very well in whatever career choice they make.

And now, it is my great honor to present the Super Steve Award to Ali Javed.



A New Honor

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Tonight, I had the honor of presenting the first Stephen Bernier “Super Steve” award at the Denison High School’s annual Band Banquet. When I was first asked three weeks ago if I would be interested in making the presentation, I wasn’t sure if I could find the right words. But, because the band leadership was so keen on creating this new award and helping to keep Steve’s memory alive, I accepted the invitation and the challenge. I was given a list of the criteria used for determining who would win the award, and I used that as the basis for my speech. Two weeks later I had my first draft written, and earlier this week I made the final edits. After an exhausting series of run-throughs (and I do mean exhausting — I was up very, very late last night practicing), I felt I was ready.

The band had done all of the voting on who would receive this award. I had no hand in the decision process; all I did was approve their creating the award in the first place. I did not even know who was to receive it until I was told at the banquet tonight. When I was given the recipient’s name I was pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be one of Steve’s best friends and a fellow section leader.

When I was called up to make the presentation, I ran through the speech almost exactly as I had written it; but, I found myself using contractions and blending my sentences together a little bit during the delivery, and I even ad-libbed in a piece at the very end before I announced the recipient’s name. By all accounts, even with those minor differences I nailed the speech — there was nothing but positive comments, handshakes, and hugs afterward. In talking with several people at the banquet, I found they were interested in getting a copy of the speech; so, I promised I would post it here as soon as possible.

Well, here it is. This is the original text I had planned to speak; at the end, I will include the “ad-libbing” I did on the fly.

Good evening.

When Brandon (Head Drum Major Brandon Fisher) asked me a few weeks ago if I would make this presentation, I was very hesitant. I asked myself, “How could I possibly come up with words that were fitting and appropriate for such an honor?” I accepted his offer, still unsure of exactly what I was going to say. But, I knew that if I could walk into the band hall the afternoon after Steve’s accident and stand in that room full of people – in front of many of you – totally unprepared, and somehow manage to say something that was halfway intelligent, then having a few weeks’ notice would be more than enough time for me to find something to talk about tonight.

And, I have.

This award – the first of its kind, and hopefully not the last – recognizes a band member who, according to his or her peers, has displayed several of the qualities that our son lived every day: pride for band, integrity, leadership, and selflessness. I cannot think of a better time or place to present it, for this is one of the last times everyone in this band – Steve’s last band – will be together. And since it’s the first of its kind, I hope you don’t mind me taking a couple of minutes to talk about those qualities as they applied to Steve.

To say that Steve was proud to be in the band is a gross understatement. If there was one thing he absolutely loved heart and soul, it was playing in the band. He practiced whenever he seemed to get a free minute, and when he didn’t have time to play because of schoolwork he would still listen to band music. When he found a sheet music company that posted recordings online, ohh, it was like he’d reached Nirvana. The only down side to that was when he liked a particular piece he would play it over… and over… and over, to the point where I was ready to rip the speakers off his computer. But, he would have an expression on his face while he tapped along with the tune – a pleased, excited, happy look – that told me he was absorbed into the music, and that was something I didn’t dare try to take away from him. He was always critical of his own performances, and never stopped trying to improve himself and be a better band member. There were numerous times he’d run me out of my office so he could work on his SmartMusic lessons, and while it all sounded perfect to me, he would sometimes take an hour or more before he was satisfied with his work. We recognized his great devotion to music by having the image of a trumpet engraved on his headstone, and if you haven’t seen it I invite you to pay a visit to the cemetery and have a look. Hopefully it will make you smile the way it does for me every time I go there.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “integrity”? Most people think of things like honesty and truthfulness. It also means “to be consistent in one’s actions”, and when a person “has integrity” they are acting according to their beliefs. In other words, they always do what they say they’re going to do. Did you ever know Steve to not be that way? Around us he was no different – when he said he was going to do something, by golly he did, and Lord help you if you got in his way. He would frequently say his goals after high school were to attend Harvard, go into politics, and one day rule the world. He had started on a plan to reach them, too. First he was working to graduate at the top of his class, and he crammed his schedule with AP courses in his effort to get there. He even did something I never dreamed of doing – he actually studied for the PSAT. He never backed down from his plans, either; a few weeks after the funeral, when we got the results from the AP exams he took that spring, we found he had listed only one college to release his scores to – Harvard. Would he have ruled the world one day? We can only imagine…

For Steve, leadership came somewhat naturally to him. He always wanted to lead, starting with leading his brother around the house and deciding what they were going to play. As he got older, he tried his hand at leading in other ways. Did any of you know that he raised and showed goats in 4-H for five years? Well, he did, and one year he stepped up and became president of the Livestock Club. We were all very proud of his accomplishment, and he took his new title to heart. For one of the first meetings after he became president, he went through all the steps of preparing for it – he called all of the members to remind them of the meeting, he prepared an agenda, assembled his materials, and was ready to go…unfortunately, no one else showed up. You could tell he was hurt, but he didn’t let setbacks like that bother him for long…they just made him try harder. Many of you know how hard he worked to become a section leader, and when he learned he had been selected, it was one of the happiest times I’d ever seen him. He threw everything into preparing to be his best, too…attending the leadership clinics, organizing the section party at the lake, even buying the pizza and drinks for it out of his own pocket. I have no doubt he would have been an awesome section leader for you this past year.

Last but not least is selflessness. Steve often would set his own needs and feelings aside to focus on the needs of others. Sometimes it was from a sense of duty: one of his AP classes had a cookout, and somehow he ended up doing the cooking…he wouldn’t sit down to eat until he made sure everyone else was taken care of. Sometimes, it was from his sense of wanting to do the right thing: he once scolded a group of kids on the school bus because they were distracting the driver and could have caused an accident. And sometimes, it was because he was looking out for his friends: toward the end of his last year in school he frequently missed his bus home. It wasn’t until several weeks after the funeral that we learned why. Among the many cards, letters, and messages we received was this: “(I) don’t know if you knew it but Stephen would stay after school outside the band hall with my daughter until I got there to pick her up each day for about the last 2 months or so of school, even if I was running late and didn’t get there until around 4 or 4:15.” I won’t name names here because I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but I’m sure some of you know who the girl was. That note went on to say: “I’m sorry we didn’t get the chance to know him because she really liked him a lot. And from how the other kids talked about him he must have been a special guy.”

Yes, he was.

It seems only fitting that someone like him is remembered and honored in the many ways you have done so throughout this school year. And tonight, we add one more honor to that list with this award created and given in his name.

[In my mind, this award should be given to all of you, because all of you have been super. Please, give yourselves a hand! (applause) But, just like the words I remember from an old movie, “there can be only one”], And so, it is now my honor, and great pleasure to present [the first-ever “Super Steve” Award] to Alex Tucker.

Alex then ran up on stage and gave me a bear hug, crying his eyes out and saying something I could not quite understand through all the tears. I hugged him back and told him everything was okay. He finally slowed down enough to accept his plaque from me, shook my hand, and returned to his seat. I then closed by simply saying “Thank you” and left the stage, shaking Brandon’s hand along the way.

Congratulations, Alex. I am sure Steve would have been very honored and proud to have you as the first recipient of this award. I know I am.